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We Need a Truly Good Neighbor

With the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus takes up the question, “Who is my neighbor.” The question was asked by a lawyer wanting to justify himself for not loving as he should. At first it seems the answer is clear: Even the John Doe who was mugged and thrown naked in the ditch is a neighbor to whom we should show mercy. But wait! That isn’t the question Jesus raises. He asks, “[Who] do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The answer to this question is “The one who showed mercy to him,” the Samaritan.

This raises the question, “who is like that?” This is a parable, after all, so whom does the Samaritan represent, and who is the poor wretch in the ditch?

The Samaritan is Christ, you and I are the wretch, and His perfect mercy saves us.

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, September 6, 2020, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

Luke 10:23–37 (CSB)
23 Then turning to his disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see the things you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see the things you see but didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear but didn’t hear them.”

25 Then an expert in the law stood up to test him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the law?” he asked him. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.”,
28 “You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus took up the question and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. 34 He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’
36 “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
37 “The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.
Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”

Dear fellow redeemed: The parable of the Good Samaritan comes up perhaps more often than usual in our Bible History books, books on the Life of Christ, and in the lessons chosen for our Sunday sermons. It gets quoted a lot also in popular religion, for its “do-gooder” character. Any difficulty in understanding this parable comes, not from some complexity or lack of clarity, but from the way that it reverses the human way of thinking. It starts out with the necessity that we be a good neighbor, and ends up making the point of how absolutely and completely …

WE NEED A GOOD NEIGHBOR

  1. It’s What We’re Supposed to Be
  2. It’s What Christ Is for You and Me
  1. It’s What We’re Supposed to Be

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Luke recounts the powerful invasion of this world by the Lord of Life. Jesus has sent out the 72 to preach the gospel and they had power to heal, to cast out demonic spirits, and to proclaim the gospel, the good news that humanity is reconciled to God. It is all about Christ as the unique Savior of mankind. What a thing for these disciples to experience! 23 Then turning to his disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see the things you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see the things you see but didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear but didn’t hear them.”

But in contrast, next comes a man, an expert in the law, which meant the Torah, the books of Moses. He did not see Jesus as the pivotal figure in history, but saw himself as the one that must DO the thing that would save him. 25 Then an expert in the law stood up to test him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the law?” he asked him. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.”,
28 “You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.”

This is what we all do when confronted with the law, unless our heart is changed to faith. The law says, “Love God perfectly in every way, and also your neighbor.” Love perfectly, or you will be damned. Lest we despair, we look for some righteousness in our selves. This man looked for hope in a carful parsing of the law. 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Ah, so long as my neighbor is lovable, that might work. Pick the right neighbor and we just might love  such a person. Let’s see if Jesus will give us some wiggle-room to show that we are really righteous. 30 Jesus took up the question and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers.

There is a lot packed into the story, the significance of the priest and the Levite, but Jesus tells us more about the Samaritan. 33 But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. 34 He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’

The Samaritan.  Arguably at risk to himself he tends the man’s wounds and disinfects them.  At great personal inconvenience, expense and exertion he gives him a ride, gets him set up in an inn, pays the bill out into the future, and obligates himself to further care and concern.

THAT is the kind of neighbor we are to be, even to our enemies. If the lawyer thought he could justify himself by quibbling about the definition of “neighbor,” he was clearly wrong.  Our neighbor is anyone with whom we have any connection who needs our love and compassion.  Who of us hasn’t failed to love our neighbor? Remember, over all of this hangs the man’s question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

He  answered his own question, “Love God and my neighbor.”  So who was his neighbor?

36 “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
37 “The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.
Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”

And we should. Really, we who have been the objects of God’s grace should be models of compassion where God has placed us in life. But we haven’t

2. It’s What Christ Is for You and Me

What can we “do” to gain eternal life when perfection eludes us? Has Christ left the man without hope, with only the condemnation of the law, “Be perfectly loving or you won’t inherit eternal life.”?

You’ve probably noticed by now, that at the end Jesus didn’t ask, “Was the man who fell among robbers our neighbor, whom we should love?”  Instead He changed things around and asked, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

With that question, put that way, Jesus doesn’t take away the overall impact of what holiness demands, but at the same time He points to the one who showed mercy and compassion.  Who is like that?  Who could really “go and do likewise?”  You know that only Jesus has done that.  Look at Him and learn that He is your righteousness.

This man so learned in the Torah (“law” doesn’t convey the meaning) needed to compare one of the central event in the Torah with what Jesus describes in the Samaritan.

The Torah itself, in which this man was so learned was not a list of rules by which a person could achieve eternal life; it was a record of the grace of God who reached down into this world and revealed Himself as The Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: The Lord—the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the fathers’ iniquity on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6–7, CSB)

In this account of the Good Samaritan Jesus portrays Himself as the one who, merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love, reaches out to us and sooths the wounds  in our lives because of sin – our sin and the sins of others.

Who is our neighbor?  You can answer fearlessly, even though it will show up your sins of lovelessness, because it is not on that basis that you are acceptable to God.  And you can love your neighbor without fear that it isn’t “good enough for God,” confident that you have been created and placed where you are in the world to do those good things which honor him and are a blessing to others.  All you do out of love for God and the good of your neighbor will indeed be cherished by God himself, and has His approval, because the righteousness of Christ fills up all that is lacking.

So may we love one another, that people may see our love and learn of our Savior Who is truly the Good Samaritan.  He is good to us pitiable wretches who need His salvation so much.

AMEN